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Sports Science & Nutrition

Foods from Your Pantry to Boost Performance

Sports Science & Nutrition

granolabarBy Caroline Sullivan, MS, RD, CSSD, LD 

Reading a food label is hard enough as it is, but add “naturally delivers electrolytes” or “vital nutrients” or “performance aminos” makes it even more challenging to know what to choose. The sports nutrition supplement market grows year after year as new nutrition information is published. Searching for the right foods to benefit your tennis game can be hard. Sit down for this one…did you know that you have foods at home ALREADY that can fuel your game? Things that you find in an every-day-pantry! 

As a sports dietitian, I see all types of athletes – from elite to weekend warrior. The most important thing for all of them to learn is that sports nutrition can be easy. You can get what you need without breaking your bank or needing to design custom sports nutrition products. It is hard to know what to reach for when shopping for performance. One brand may have 3 or 4 different post-workout protein shakes, while the other has 3 or 4 different types of energy chews. The choices are endless. How do you know what to eat and when? Here’s some basic info that will take you a long way:

Before Activity: eat a balanced snack that’s low in fat with not too much protein.

fruitgummysDuring Activity: eat a simple carbohydrate (yes, sugar!) and some water or sports drink if your activity will be longer than an hour.

After: choose a good balance of carbohydrate and protein.

Walk on over to your pantry and reach for these items next time you need to fuel for tennis.

  1. Applesauce: this is a great snack immediately before activity or even during. When you grocery shop, look for the individual packets of applesauce. Keep a couple of these in your tennis bag. They are great if you don’t have time to get a snack before walking on court and they add variety to your mid-match bite of banana.
  2. Fruit Snacks: reach for Star Wars, Elsa, or just plain old fruit juice gummies. These are great to eat at changeovers. They are made of sugar, so are very easy for your body to digest and use. Did you know that this is the only fuel your brain wants when your muscles are working hard? These aren’t just for lunchboxes any more.
  3. Granola Bars: these are great a couple hours before activity. Look for brands with the least amount of ingredients. “Trail mix” granola bars are typically made of nuts and dried fruit. These provide a good balance of the carbohydrate, protein, and fat that you need for sustained energy.
  4. Beef Jerky: low fat and high protein, pair this with a banana or other carbohydrate after activity. They are also shelf stable, so are going to be fine sitting in your tennis bag when the on court temperature is scorching. 

Applying the principles of sports nutrition to everyday life doesn’t have to be complicated. Don’t worry so much about choosing the perfect sports nutrition product. Instead, use the nutrition guidelines above to get creative with the items you already buy each week at the store. Next time your kid asks why the fruit snacks are disappearing, with a wink and a smile, just remind them that elevating your game with proper nutrition might just win you that next championship. 



Caroline Sullivan is a Registered Dietitian and specialist in sports dietetics. She has served as a dietitian for several NCAA Division I top-25 teams including work with basketball, football, tennis, and track & field. She is a member of the USTA Texas Sports Science Committee.

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